Global Challenges Research Fund

What is GCRF?

The Global Challenges Research Fund is a £1.5 billion fund to support research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries. GCRF is intended to fund challenge-led disciplinary and interdisciplinary research whilst strengthening UK and overseas capacity, and responding rapidly to emergencies.

The GCRF is designed to support the UK Aid Strategy and the Sustainable Development Goals. Therefore, research must contribute to social welfare and economic development of the countries being researched. RCUK have identified ‘challenge areas’ (see below) which are based on the 2015 UK Aid Strategy that guide the direction of GCRF. The UK Government have also produced a GCRF strategy and a general overview.

Funding types

There are two types of funding:

  1. Allocated UKRI funding – awarded from one or more specific councils
  2. Collective Fund – unallocated funding aimed at large-scale interdisciplinary research

The unallocated portion of the GCRF, which is the single largest funding stream, will increase year on year. There are no restrictions on the types of awards that are made. Different delivery partners are already supporting different types of awards (eg fellowships, centres and research grants).

GCRF challenge areas

UKRI have identified the three main challenge areas that provide an overarching framework to bring together research excellence and world-leading international development. These are developed in line with the sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Equitable access to sustainable development

  • Secure and resilient food systems supported by sustainable marine resources and agriculture
  • Sustainable health and well-being
  • Inclusive and equitable quality education
  • Clean air, water and sanitation
  • Affordable, reliable, sustainable energy

Sustainable economies and societies

  • Sustainable livelihoods supported by strong foundations for inclusive economic growth and innovation
  • Resilience and action on short-term environmental shocks and long-term environmental change
  • Sustainable cities and communities
  • Sustainable production and consumption of materials and resources

Human rights, good governance and social justice

  • Understand and respond effectively to forced displacement and multiple refugee crises
  • Reduce conflict and promote peace, justice and humanitarian action
  • Reduce poverty and inequality, including gender inequalities

Oxford support for GCRF

Research Services

Research Services is the central point of contact for the Global Challenges Research Fund and ODA funding opportunities. Get in contact with ODA Research Facilitator and Coordinator James Watkins.

How Research Services can help

  • Provide advice on ODA compliance and general advice on GCRF projects
  • Link academics up with collaborators for GCRF projects (internally and externally)
  • Keep you updated on upcoming calls

How Oxford researchers can help us

  • Keep us informed on large bids being developed for GCRF
  • Inform us of academics keen to get involved

Divisional support

As well as central support from Research Services, there is also support from divisional offices. The points of contact for GCRF are the divisional members of the Operational Leadership Group:

Social Sciences: Currently Vacant

Medical Sciences: Leila Whitworth

Mathematical, Physical and Life Sciences: Martin Edmunds

Humanities: Currently Vacant


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The £1.5bn has moved directly from 0.7% of GDP for foreign aid funding (largely administered by DfID) to BEIS funding and has been allocated to the Research Councils, HEFCE, Department of Health and the learned societies.

There is £1.5bn of funding in total, distributed from BEIS to different funding agencies (see below table taken from the spending review allocations for the research base published on 4 March 2016).

The unallocated portion of the GCRF, which is the single largest funding-stream and accounts for 37% of the total, will increase year on year. RCUK are currently developing plans for this unallocated portion which is know known as the collective fund.

Global Challenges Research Fund (£m)

Body/programme 16/17 17/18 18/19* 19/20* 20/21* SR Total
National Academies 11 11 11 11 11 45
AHRC 5 7 7 7 7 25
BBSRC 10 20 20 20 20 70
EPSRC 10 15 15 15 15 55
ESRC 5 10 10 10 10 35
HEFCE 20 37 37 37 37 130
MRC 14 34 34 34 34 115
NERC 5 10 10 10 10 35
STFC 0 4 4 4 4 11
International Partnership Programme 32 30 30 30 30 122
Unallocated GCRF 0 38 122 216 315 377
Totals 112 215 299 393 492 1,019

*Indicative only
Totals may not add due to rounding

There is a cross-council Strategic Advisory Board that is overseeing the distribution of the GCRF.

The primary purpose of the Strategic Advisory Group is to advise on the strategic development and delivery of the Global Challenges Research Fund, and specifically:

  1. Engagement with research and stakeholder communities and the facilitation of new ideas and opportunities
  2. The development of a strategic research agenda and prioritisation of challenge topics
  3. The effectiveness of UKRI strategies and mechanisms, including mechanisms to build capability where it is needed to address existing deficits
  4. Integration of ODA and non-ODA challenge research, where this is sensible to do so the allocation of research funding, consistent with the Haldane principle.

Professor Kevin Marsh, University of Oxford, is on the group.

Full details, including membership, of the GCRF Strategic Advisory Group can be found on the UKRI website.

The GCRF delivery partners are working closely with DfID and frequently make reference to:

(i) The UK Government Aid Strategy UN
(ii) The UN Global Goals

See also the GCRF strategy and challenge areas

Potential applicants to the fund are encouraged to see whether their research fits with either of these and to highlight any clear links in applications.

There are no restrictions on the types of awards that will be made. Different delivery partners are already supporting different types of awards eg fellowships, centres, research grants.

Most UKRI calls will be funded at 80% FEC but some calls may vary.